Ask people which is the most influential series on television and they’ll probably say The Wire (because when it’s their turn to go to the bar they joke that they’re “going for the re-up”), or The Killing (because now everyone's into jumpers), or The X Factor (because that’s half your Saturday nights gone right there). But, actually, a programme doesn’t have to begin with The to have an impact on people’s lives.
The Come Dine with Me just sounds stupid, yet the show has not only prompted countless competitive cookery competitions around the country - and transformed the way I spend my Sunday afternoons - it’s also had a huge influence on the makeup of the TV schedules (particularly if you watch Sky Living).
The latest Come Dine with Me spin-off starts tonight and it’s a genuine one, too - made for Channel 4, featuring CDWM’s heroic narrator, Dave Lamb, and even using the same title format.
Come Date with Me tells you pretty much all you need to know about the show but, to clarify, it works like this: a young lady hosts an evening of food and frolics for five male suitors. She offs one of them on the first night, and one each night thereafter for the rest of this week until she’s presumably feeling pretty hepped up on power and her own general hotness. At the end of the week, the last man standing helps the black widow spend £1,000 prize money on yet another date.
Of course, Come Date with Me is just the latest in a string of formats borrowing one or more elements from the Come Dine with Me experience. Here are four more favourites of mine and - revealing the dark truth at the heart of TV commissioning - another show that each of them may in turn have helped spawn.
Three/Four in a Bed
The ménage a trois/ménage a quatre reference of the title of course utterly belies the true content of this Channel 4 show, which is competitive bed and breakfasting (OK, that still sounds a bit rude, but it’s not). Each of the B&B owners invite the others to stay at, and judge, their establishments before they decide whether to pay the full asking price for the room, deduct money or, occasionally (with a glimmer of hope that the fate of the human race is not an entirely foregone conclusion) overpay. Fingers will be run over surfaces, runniness of egg yolks and temperatures of plates will be commented upon and everyone will leave hating each other.
Spin-off spin-off - Attack of the Trip Advisors: surely October’s one-off show pitting petty members of the travel recommendations website against hotel and B&B owners deserves an entire series?
Fancy combining the awkwardness of a first date with the stress of trying to cook a decent meal for a stranger? Then why not apply to be on ITV’s Dinner Date. Here, the supposed catch of the day is cooked a three-course meal by each of three prospective partners, presumably on the basis that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and the way to a woman’s heart is being willing to share the cooking duties. The winner is taken on a proper date where someone else cooks, leaving the other two to a night in with a takeaway. The question is, will they actually turn up for the date or instead decide that a curry and some Xbox (other games consoles are available) is a more attractive alternative?
Spin-off spin-off – Dating in the Dark: the clue is in the title here but it’s when the lights come on that the real fun starts. Will the prospective couple decide to meet in the (too too solid) flesh or will one find themselves gazing forlornly down from a window as the other walks on by and out the front gate?
Four brides are guests at each others' weddings in this offering from Sky Living. They suck up the free booze and food, soak up the ambience then criticise them for being, respectively, not champagne, like school dinners and too tacky, before giving a score for each category. The winner gets a free honeymoon with their new husband while the others get to stand in their wedding gowns on a windy runway wishing them all the food poisoning in the world.
Spin-off spin-off - Four Weddings US: the stateside version follows the format but takes itself way too seriously.
Yes, it’s Come Dine with Me with Parties (again on Living). And, yes, they tend to be rather tacky affairs (although each competitor seems to have a bit of a blind spot on that front when it comes to their own). There will be shots and bad dancing, and quite possibly pole dancing. There will be goth-themed parties and trance parties and family affairs, meaning fish-out-of-water scenarios galore.
Spin-off spin-off - Dinner Party Wars: and so we come full circle. This show is basically a Come Dine with Me clone. It's only on Canadian TV at this stage but it is co-hosted by Anthea Turner, so we may well see it over here one day. At which point, TV will well and truly have eaten itself. Which I suppose would be rather appropriate.
Come Date with Me is on Monday to Friday this week at 5pm on Channel 4